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How to Identify and Refer a Distressed Student Ed Derr LPC, NCC Director of Counseling, Testing, Disability Services Quotes “Murderers are not monsters, they’re men. And that’s the most frightening thing about them.” -Alice Sebold

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How to Identify and Refer a Distressed Student

Ed Derr LPC, NCC

Director of Counseling, Testing, Disability Services


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Quotes

“Murderers are not monsters, they’re men. And that’s the most frightening thing about them.” -Alice Sebold

“If the desire to kill and the opportunity to kill came always together, who would escape hanging?” -Mark Twain


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We are sometimes faced with student behavior that is troublesome while performing our role of maintaining an effective learning environment.

There are student services that exist to support you.


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Disturbing or Disruptive… that is the question troublesome while performing our role of maintaining an effective learning environment.

It is useful to distinguish between student behavior that is disturbing rather than disruptive.


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Identifying Disturbing Behavior troublesome while performing our role of maintaining an effective learning environment.

Disturbing Behavior:

  • Causes us to feel concerned, alarmed, afraid, frustrated.

  • Behavior that may not have negative impact on other students, professor’s ability to teach or conduct class or implementation of other professionals’ roles in the university.

  • However, may indicate that a particular student is having difficulties that affects his/her academic performance.


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Examples of Disturbing Behaviors troublesome while performing our role of maintaining an effective learning environment.

  • A student who jokes in class about killing himself.

  • A student who perspires profusely when giving a talk in front of a class.

  • A student who discloses that her mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer.

  • A student who seems to work harder than most students but can’t pass an exam.


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  • A student who appears to be losing significant weight yet speaks with pride about how little she eats.

  • A student whose writing appears disjointed and fragmented, as thought he cannot maintain a logical sequence in his thought processes.

  • A student who reports that FBI agents are following him around campus.


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Interventions for Disturbing Behavior speaks with pride about how little she eats.

Faculty and Staff have options for responding:

  • Can do nothing.

  • Initiate a private conversation with the student about their behavior. Keep the conversation focused on the behavior, not the possible cause of it.

  • Consult with other professionals on campus. (Faculty and Staff are not expected or is it encouraged to provide professional counseling.)

  • Refer the student to other professionals on campus.


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Identifying Disruptive Behavior speaks with pride about how little she eats.

Disruptive behavior:

  • Behavior that interferes with the educational process of other students.

  • It may or may not be responsive to faculty or staff intervention.

  • Is behavior that may prevent faculty/staff from carrying out professional responsibilities.


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Examples of Disruptive Behavior speaks with pride about how little she eats.

  • A student who physically confronts another person.

  • A student who verbally abuses another person.

  • A student who interrupts the educational process in class by: making remarks out of turn, taking over a lecture, dominates class discussion.


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Interventions for Disruptive Behavior by: breaking windows, throwing furniture, smashing doors.

  • Securing a safe environment is always top priority. If ever you have questions about immediate safety, dial 7911.

  • Talk with the student, preferably in private in your office. If concerned about violence erupting, ask a colleague, dept. chair, or supervisor to be present. “Two heads are better than one”.


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Procedures for intervention in the classroom or offices the meeting.

  • Verbal request to stop the behavior.

  • Verbal request to leave.

  • Call Police and/or Campus Security at 7911.

  • Consult about dropping the student from your class.

  • Consult with Dean of the College and Dean of Students about possible violations of the Student Code of Conduct.


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Prevention is always good medicine… when you can the meeting.

Things that make Drury special can help to deter violence:

  • Small school atmosphere

  • Ability to build relationships with students so they feel comfortable coming to them

  • Effective communication with students and among students


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“Grey” Anatomy the meeting.

Federal privacy and antidiscrimination laws restrict how universities can deal with students who have mental health problems. (FERPA)

  • For the most part, universities cannot tell parents about their children’s problems w/out the student’s consent. Yes, if risk to themselves, to others, alcohol violation.

  • Cannot release any information in a student’s medical record w/out consent.

  • Cannot put students on involuntary medical leave just because they develop a serious mental illness.


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Universities are in a bind. Most state laws are pretty clear:

you can only bring students to hospitals if there is imminent risk to themselves or someone else.


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Cases… clear:

In 2000, MIT was found liable for a student that committed suicide. Mass. Superior Court ruled that the college should have informed parents of the student’s deteriorating mental health. Parents sued for $27.7 million – settled for an undisclosed amount.

On the other hand, last August, the City University of NY agreed to pay $65,000 to a student who sued after being barred from her dorm room because she was hospitalized after a suicide attempt.


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  • Most recent campus shooting case occurred 9/22 in Finland GWU hospital due to suicide risk. GWU would not allow him back into school following his hospital stay; transferred schools and sued GWU.

  • Shot and killed 12 students; killed himself.

  • You Tube video made before the shooting.

  • Questioned but not detained; gun not confiscated.


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Concerns… GWU hospital due to suicide risk. GWU would not allow him back into school following his hospital stay; transferred schools and sued GWU.

  • People that are “different” perceived as a threat? A witch-hunt mentality? Profiling?

  • Stephen King wrote “strange” writings; Salvador Dali created “strange” art.

  • Introverts seen as “loners”.

  • Many wrongly believe most who suffer from a mental illness are prone to violence. Only a small percentage actually commit violent crimes.


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Thank you. condition: depression, anxiety, birth control, ADHD or for some chronic mental illness like bipolar. Do they take their medicines correctly? Consistently? We may not know…

Questions and Comments?


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